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God’s Word for You

Hebrews 11:21

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, December 19, 2014

21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

These two events—blessing Joseph’s sons and worshiping—are not necessarily the same moment in time. Both events happen within three verses of one another, but they are separated by the words “some time later” (Genesis 48:1). In Genesis 47:31, Jacob asks Joseph to swear to bury his body with Abraham and Isaac in Canaan, and not where he was going to die (in Egypt). As Jacob said this, he “worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” Later (here is our “some time later”) Joseph came to his dying father. He brought along his toddler sons Ephraim and Manasseh to be blessed by their grandfather, and that was the moment when Jacob crossed his hands to bless the younger Ephraim with a greater blessing than that given to the older brother Manasseh (Genesis 48:17-22). Jacob did this from his deathbed, and not while leaning on the top of his staff.

Our author compacts the story by bringing Jacob’s blessing right up against the blessing Jacob received from Isaac (verse 20). Jacob shows his faith in this blessing, and he also shows that he learned that his own faith had matured since his younger days. He had stolen his brother’s blessing by deceiving his father, but God worked through Isaac’s words and blessings even though Isaac had not fully understood what was happening. God was not deceived, but God allowed Isaac’s blessing to stand. Jacob had learned from the Lord in some way (we’re not told how) that God would bless both of Joseph’s sons, but that “the younger brother would be greater” (Genesis 48:19), and so he spoke his blessing in that way. His body was feeble. He was on his deathbed, but we’re reminded that “some time” before this when still getting around he could not even worship without leaning on his staff. His body was weak, but his faith was not.

Our author’s emphasis is that Jacob did not see the blessings for these children come about, but he trusted God. He did not see the Savior come into the world, but he had faith that Christ would one day be born. We trust that Jesus will come again. So while we wait for that second Advent, we should not doubt that God’s other promises will come, too. He promises to be with us always (Matthew 28:20)—don’t imagine that he is gone from your life. He promises that baptism gives us a good and clean conscience before God and promises the resurrection to eternal life (1 Peter 3:21,22)—don’t doubt that those things are yours too. We wrestle with the problem of sin in our lives, but God forgives. He sent his Son to be our Savior, and to bless us in more ways than we know.

In hindsight we might even see a shadow of the cross of Christ in the way Jacob blessed his sons. By putting his right hand on the head of Ephraim sitting on his left knee, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh sitting on his right knee, Jacob made the sign of the cross above their head with his wrists. Whether any of them understood it fully, the cross of Christ was certainly part of their blessing, and the victory of the cross blesses us all.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

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